The cloud sure is convenient. I can put stuff in it and never have to worry about managing or maintaining server infrastructure, system maintenance, etc. Someone else does all that, and I just show up, pay my dues, and have my stuff wherever I go. It’s perfect, right?

Storm clouds breaking

Except…

… when companies in the cloud get bought or go away, like CoHuman, which I had previously recommended and loved. One quick signature by its founder on a letter of intent and the service announces that it’s going away.

… when data is transient, like Twitter search. Tweets come and go, but not nearly as many are recorded permanently.

… when systems out of your control fail, like a major daily deal service experienced. Instantly their main source of income vanished.

… when, as Helena Bouchez pointed out, you run out of money yourself. Think carefully about how deeply invested you are financially in the cloud. Can you afford to pay for all those services if things get lean? How much of your business depends on cloud services that you might want to suspend until cash flow improves?

How dependent are you on the cloud? Have you investigated things like the Data Liberation Front?

Before you sign up for a cloud service, ask yourself these simple questions:

  1. How easily can I get my data out?
  2. How easily can I replicate the business processes that the cloud service provides? This is a lot harder than #1.
  3. How dependent is my business on the accessibility and availability of the cloud?
  4. What expense is there between the cloud and rolling my own, and is the trade-off worth it?

Based on your answers, you can judge whether you should be pursuing a cloud-based solution or doing something in-house. There are times when using the cloud just makes sense. Maintaining your own mailserver is a pain in the butt. I’ve done it, I don’t enjoy it, and I gladly hand that over to GMail to be their problem, with the understanding that I need to regularly back up my email on my machine.

There are other times when using the cloud is possibly the worst thing you could do because it locks you into a mission-critical solution that you lose control over, and if you can’t sustain the requirements of the cloud service, you’re up a creek without a paddle.

At the very least, before considering a cloud service, you should have in mind a completely viable alternative to it that’s local or self-hosted software. It doesn’t have to be exactly the same as the cloud, but it has to be good enough to fall back upon and still be able to manage your business. For example…

  • If you’re a Salesforce.com user, you had better be aware of and able to install SugarCRM.
  • If you’re an IM user, you should know what Jabber is and how to deploy it.
  • If you’re a GMail user, you’d better know what Postfix is and how to get a hold of it.

Get out a sheet of paper and make a list of each cloud service and its non-cloud alternative. If you find a service that has no non-cloud alternative, and it’s mission critical to your company, be prepared to pay for it indefinitely or don’t use it.

Having those backup options will provide your business with the insurance it needs in case something goes horribly wrong with the cloud.

What’s your cloud backup strategy? Do you have one?


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